Shortly after the caffeine-fueled controversy over a Karan Johar show, and after allowing himself to be dragged into training, Hardik Pandya told his childhood coach Jitender Singh in Vadodara, “Coach, you won’t hear anything negative about me after this.”
“He kept his word, his father would have been so proud today,” Jeetubhai, the coach, told this newspaper on the afternoon of the IPL Grand Final.
A few hours later at the sparkling Narendra Modi stadium, bustling with over lakh, mostly Gujarat Titan supporters, Hardik led GT to a famous triumph as they chased 131 with seven wickets in hand. Hardik had chosen the most important game of the tournament to make an important point – he couldn’t just beat his 4 over quota, he still had the sting to disable an entire batting lineup. His victims of the day were Jos Butler, Sanju Samson and Shimron Hetmyer – the strength, brains and swagger of the Royals of Rajasthan. And would calmly lead the chase, after a few early wickets, with a responsible 34 to further drive the point home.
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For a time in his career, Pandya seemed to crave attention, not knowing what he wanted everyone to look at in him. As a result, it garnered attention but not engagement. But lately he’s made it clear to himself and everyone else that he wants the attention on his cricket – and now he’s got everyone mesmerised.
When the Baroda lad burst onto the international scene, fans wished he was the versatile bowler India had been waiting for since Kapil Dev. This IPL, Hardik has shown that at least in the shortest format of the game, he can win games with a bat and a ball and also be Kapil’s inspirational leader. After the auction, who would have thought Hardik could lead this group of no-hoppers to the title in their first season.
Jeetubhai recalls the first time he tried to introduce Captain Hardik, right after the second IPL season. “I made him captain of the Reliance side. I told him it was time he started developing that aspect. What happened? The coach laughs. “Hardik was not very enthusiastic at the time. ‘Sir, I don’t want all this now. I want to focus on my stick and my bowling. So I let him, but I just wanted that thought to fade into the background.
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When did the tide turn? “When they’re young they sometimes think the captaincy is too much responsibility or they think it’s being the boss and all that composure. At some point he realized it came naturally to him because it was about making decisions, thinking about cricket, strategy and helping other players be themselves.
“With what he’s been through and the way others have seen it, sometimes made fun of him, he knows exactly what to do with other players like him. He knows how much to help them be themselves. memes can be a very powerful thing,” the coach says. “I wasn’t surprised he backed David Miller the way he did.”
The coach identifies three recent events that have quickly matured Hardik. “The episode of Karan Johar, marriage and fatherhood, and the death of his father last year. Each has their own impact, some realizing, some unaware, but what I feel is that all three have matured it. He didn’t want to feel negative anymore after that TV show, he realized that all he wanted was a happy, stable family after marriage, and the death of his father, whom he was very close to, had to having him matured into an adult in several ways. This old bachpana (childishness) has changed.
The advertisers behind the “Dream Big” series for a fantasy game understood this inherent Hardik trait that matches public perception, and brought it to the fore. Where all the other stars of this series, from Rohit Sharma to Jasprit Bumrah, Rishabh Pants at Ravichandran Ashwindownplaying, choosing overt humility in following their rise through the help of one individual, Hardik’s storyline is more daring: he talks about himself, explains how even that other individual achieved “top ka player hey”.
Jeetubhai, who has known Hardik since he was young, smiles when this image is released. “Let me put him like this. He’s like a coconut, hard on the outside, very soft on the inside. An emotional family man, who likes to be cool! I find this combination cute and cool!
This leads to the other side of Hardik. During his time as captain, he talked about how he and bowling coach Ashish Nehra are like two peas in a pod when it comes to cricket. Often, Nehra was seen advising him on bowling changes from the sidelines during games. ‘Give one more to Rashid’, ‘bring a particular fast bowler now’. Not only did Hardik not care, but he actively sought out and followed this advice.
“He has no ego in that sense. Ads are one thing, the real Hardik is another. He’s always listened, always taken good advice, maybe he’ll end up doing his thing but always listen to the people he trusts first. And he trusts Nehra a lot. It’s not silly to say ‘I know everything, I’m going to do it my way or what people will think of it. people ?’ He knows and appreciates good suggestions,” Jeetubhai said. “As I said, it’s actually a coconut.
Some journalists who were at the Wankhede Stadium a few years ago during a Mumbai Indians training session, can attest to this. Something had happened, we couldn’t tell what had happened, but suddenly Hardik looked upset. MI’s head coach at the time Ricky Bridge came over, patted his back, spent a lot of time consoling, and then a few other senior players fell as well.
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After a while, Hardik stood up, continued wiping away his tears, and finally shrugged, no matter what bothered him, put on some sunglasses, glanced at the media, and said. resumed his cool walk. There he was, in full public view, overcoming a sweet personal moment with confidence.
Which brings one to his bowling, which was one of the reasons he couldn’t break into the Indian team lately as he wasn’t doing much after an injury. The coach recalls a session earlier this year when things went down.
“One day, something made me tell him that ‘enough now, I’m going to fight your bowling.’ He agreed not to play bouncers. I think he thought he could easily sort me out. I had decided to face him, swing the bat, and luckily log in a few times. He was getting getting angrier by the minute! Suddenly he was bowling with a bouncer and it shook me. I knocked again, he shoved another bouncer and I said ‘stop! Did you say you wouldn’t play with a bouncer just because you get hit you can’t take it?! All I wanted to show was you gotta work harder in bowling The job isn’t done yet. He got it. Also recently, he was showing me this video of that session on the net and we had a good laugh.
turn the corner
When Jitender Singh arrived at Hardik’s at 7.30am when he was deported from Australia after the Karan Johar controversy, he found his former ward sitting on a sofa in his sunglasses. “He hadn’t slept all night, na?” the coach asked another person in the room. “Tension nahin lena hai (Don’t take tension). You will come back to play for India very soon. Jo ho gaya, voh ho gaya (what’s done is done), no need to worry about it. Come tomorrow to Reliance Stadium. Now smile.
The next day was Uttarayan, the famous kite festival in January. Everything stops, thousands of Gujarati necks stand up to watch colorful kites. “I had reserved a badminton court for us to play. Just to find the taste of competition and the joy of sport in him. I wanted him to sweat. He freed himself, usko ehsaas hua (he realized) that he is a sportsman and that is what he was born for. Not chat shows.
I saw that he was upset by what had happened. I know him well. He is a very emotional boy. Don’t be fooled by his robes and chains, and the style icon he seems to be. Bachcha hai (he is a child) and very pure in heart.
Once mocked, mocked, kicked off the team, Hardik bounced back in remarkable fashion. “Throughout my life, a lot of people have counted me out and put a question mark. Same with bidding, or retention or even my captaincy. The best way to answer is not to answer,” says Hardik in the GT video “Anyone who said something, I don’t have to tell them to take it back. I think they took it themselves.
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